Monday, June 21, 2021

Sandpaper vervain - Verbena scabra

The true vervains (Verbena spp.) are a mixed lot of native and nonnative species in Florida, characterized by tall upright stems and small fragrant flowers that attract the attention of a wide variety of pollinators. Very few species in this genus are native to a broad range of peninsular Florida. Sandpaper vervain (V. scabra) is an exception as it is found nearly statewide in a variety of open and disturbed habitats. It also occurs throughout the lower 1/3rd of the US from California to Virginia. Throughout its range, it is found in moist to upland soils.

This is a perennial species that produces stiff thin upright stems that can reach 2-3 feet tall by summer. These stems produce multiple branches.  The leaves are oval with decided teeth along the margins. They often are alternate along the stems, but can be whorled. Each has a short petiole. As the common and Latin names imply, they are rough to the touch.

Flowering occurs in the summer on numerous branches at the top of each stem. They occur in pairs. Each flower is no more than 1/8 inch long and comprised of 4 partially fused petals. The flowers are pale lavender to nearly white in color. Like other members of this genus, they are relished by pollinators. On the day I took these photos (Okeechobee County in mid-June), they were being assiduously visited by queens - a butterfly that almost would seem too large for these diminutive blooms. 

Sandpaper vervain is relatively weedy in appearance and not a likely candidate for commercial native plant nursery people.  It would make a good addition, however, to an open meadow-type pollinator garden where aesthetics are less important than function. Give it full to part sun and seasonally moist soil.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this native Verbena! I was worried the lovely "fireworks" of a Verbena that had volunteered in our garden was an escaped non-native Verbena. I am so delighted to now properly identify it as our native Verbena scabra!

    It kind of fills the "baby's breath" place in my wildish Florida version of an "English Country Garden," with its hodge-podge mix of Florida native wildflowers and "pass a long" traditional "Florida" garden favorites, like the "Old Garden Roses," Purple Cone Flowers, Salvias, Spiderworts, Flavaria, Frostweed, Iris, and Peach Trees (made from neighbor's Peach trimmings one early spring so many years ago)that anchor my perennial beds and offer relief from the less rewarding maintenance heavy organic vegetable beds.

    I haven't found it too aggressive in our garden, so far. It offers light airy blooms and pollinator and beneficial insect forage during a time when similar "baby's breath" type Florida natives (like my favorite now blooming Ageratina jacunda) are not in flower.

    Vernonia scabra seems fairly disease resistant here, and not at all put off by our predominantly "way too alkaline" and nematode-infested sandy urban lot soils. It "volunteers" in the most surprising places here, from "wow that looks awesome" placements (under the peach trees, and perfectly offering light shading and beneficial insect habitat to the the cabbage plot) to "I can't believe it's happy there" spots like the shallow, hot sand exposed in a narrow strip of the "it tolerates wet feet too?" spots, like the muddy and tidally affected boat slip and limy rip-rap shorelines.

    I think it's a winner for the Florida "English Country Garden" and FNPS-type, "Florida Friendly" urban gardener!

    I usually leave all the "volunteers" for a while each year, and just pull out or trim down the ones that "the cosmos" hasn't seeded in the most aesthetically pleasing (or foot traffic viable) locations.

    Thanks to your thoughtful post, I now view the Verbena scabra, like the Verbesina virginica, native asters, fleabanes, and Ageratina to be delightful gifts from the cosmos - flowers for my garden and pollinators that I didn't have to pay for or even plant! - that I am most grateful for having.

    Thanks again.
    Wishing you and yours health and happiness!
    ....and please do add me to your blog subscribers list, so I don't miss another timely read!


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